Babylon 5 #100: A Tragedy of Telepaths

"Well, with everyone now on the same side, perhaps you're planning to invade yourselves for a change. I find the idea curiously appealing. Once you've finished killing each other, we can plow under all the buildings and plant rows of flowers that spell out the words 'too annoying to live' in letters big enough to be seen from space."
IN THIS ONE... Lochley calls in Bester to end the telepaths' stand-off. Londo and G'Kar rescue Na'Toth from a Centauri cell.

REVIEW: I think JMS just sold me on Captain Lochley and all it took was an episode that actually focused on her getting the job done instead of arguing with the rest of the cast. In her opening log, she provides a recap of recent events, played - in a neat directorial trick - under her morning routine. I say morning, but I'm sure it starts in what we think of as night. And though she's as grumpy as Ivanova used to be, she bears the fatigue and frustration with more grace. Her solution to the telepath problem is going to suck, she knows it, but she acts anyway. Calling Bester - cocky, cocky Bester - is just about the only thing she can do at this point, and hopefully it's not what starts the heralded telepath war. Before he gets there and throws his arrogance around, she nevertheless makes one last plea for peace, putting herself in danger to do so, gunless, ballsy and shrewd. That it doesn't work isn't an indictment... and maybe it does work. All depends what Byron does next.

The mystery raiders subplot proceeds apace, and though we've got enough pieces to put the puzzle together, Sheridan doesn't. The Alliance aliens are ever worse off, letting their paranoia and the secret attackers' planted evidence turn them against one another. Sheridan and Delenn's solution get them in hot water, but it's a sound use of the Alliance charter. Didn't any of these alien races read the documents they were signing? Did any of them have their hearts in the right place? Or were they all strong-armed by a "show of force" like Earth was? Maybe some of that stuff in Deconstruction of Falling Stars wasn't so far off. The Alliance does act like a fascist regime in some respects, even if it's to enforce peace. It's all too precarious for them to just let certain races get thrown out, but really, if they're not going to respect the Alliance's ideals, you might as well throw them out, or they'll keep causing trouble. Nice speech from Garibaldi to explain why everyone's out to take Sheridan down too. We name wars rather than periods of peace because we're thrill junkies, who tag destruction as momentous events.

As usual, the best parts are on Centauri Prime with the show's two best characters. It's fun to see G'Kar enjoying himself, taking Centauri culture down a peg or twelve, but it's just a precursor to a test of his friendship with Londo. An innocuous clue (fresh spoo, of course) leads them to find Na'Toth (remember her? and yes it's the original) in a cell. Royal bureaucracy being what it is, Londo claims there's no way to free her until he's Emperor. A flash of the old G'Kar, angry and outraged. But soon enough, their partnership is repaired, and perhaps made a bit stronger, by Londo figuring out how to smuggle forgotten Na'Toth off the planet. He uses some of his pull as Prime Minister, sure, but most of it is possible through the precise application of his very own super-power - inappropriate boorishness. It's a pretty great escape sequence.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - Between putting Lochley on the map for me, some political wrangling, nice speeches, and a sweet Londo-G'Kar plot, this episode is far from a "tragedy".


Ryan Lohner said...

Na'Toth suffered a lot from real world circumstances, with Julie Caitlin Brown worried about the makeup having a permanent effect on her face, and then the season 2 actress being a disappointment who only appeared in two episodes despite her spot in the opening credits. Brown remained part of the B5 family after her departure, and after a less damaging way to do the makeup was discovered, she was happy to come back to give some closure to the character. It's also a great chance to show that Londo can be the hero he always thought of himself as, at least for a moment before what we know goes wrong for him.

The previous episode got some criticism after it aired for giving away who the mystery raiders were. Leaving aside how easy it would be to guess anyway, this one shows more of what JMS was going for with the story. It's like Hitchcock's classic story of two people having a casual conversation at a table that the audience knows a bomb is under, making them sweat through the scene knowing an explosion is coming, but not when. If War Without End hadn't been moved up this probably would be an actual mystery, but JMS recognized that it couldn't work that way anymore and figured out another way he could do it.

Cradok said...

The title refers not to an actual tragedy, but to the collective noun for telepahs that John Copeland, the idea presumably being that too many telepaths in one place leads to ruin. Only really applies to humans, though. Despite what Bester says at one point, that the Psi Corps is the only way, it only really seems to be an issue for humanity...

LondonKdS said...

My interpretation of why it's only humanity that seems to have so much trouble integrating telepaths (although to be fair other cultures seem to have had them for much, much longer, quite possibly since their civilisations first developed) ties in to the claim that in the B5 universe it's humans' internal cultural diversity that makes them unique.

The other major cultures, in particular the Centauri and Minbari, seem to be much more homogeneous and communitarian in nature, with less sense of individual self-expression as a primary cultural objective. Which would plausibly lead to people being less viscerally hostile to the idea of others knowing their inner thoughts.

In general this is one of my favorite things about B5 worldbuilding, that a single "superpower" often considered one of the more minor ones can cause such huge social upheaval and conflict, and that the "normal" are depicted as having genuine reasons to be afraid. It's a good counter-example to the common attitude in superhero comics where any demand for social control of superpowers always rapidly turns into simplistic analogies to real-world minorities, and declarations that such things will inevitably lead to DEATHCAMPS!!!!!!!!!!

LondonKdS said...

... and that people who are afraid of being blown to bits in superperson conflicts or being mind-controlled into torturing their own children to death by psionic sadists end up on the receiving end of "YOU'RE THE KIND OF PEOPLE WHO GASSED THE JEWS!!!!!!"

LiamKav said...

- Lochley appears to sleep in a sports bra. My wife isn't here so I can't confirm, but surely that's not comfortable? (She's also the first person I've seen wearing an EA uniform that doesn't have the white shirt on underneath. I think that helps the overall look of the uniform. The white shirt sticking out from underneath always looked a bit silly.)

- Like Siskoid, I loved the political stuff from seasons 1 and 2, but I just can't get on with it here. I guess there's only so many times you can see the Drazi be stubborn fools before you get sick of them. Seriously though, not one of the races considers that the evidence might have been planted? Garibaldi is the only person capable of running basic tests on the debris? And even after that, they still glare and pout at each other? It doesn't make Sheridan and Delenn look clever, it just makes the former League members look like children playing at politics. I can't imagine playing them at Civilisation. They'd be going for the nuclear option the moment ignored a trade treaty. (The fact that they've just finished a war against a race that used similar methods is even more annoying.)

-Similar stupidity happens to the crew trying to cut through to the telepaths. Tell the technicians in advance that the telepaths might use tricks on them to make them think that there are bombs there! Have other technicians on hot standby, rather than 30 minutes away.


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